Blog: Dave LeggettEVs' dark side: Two sides of the coin for electric vehicles

Dave Leggett | 23 December 2014

Coal-fired you say? But at least the power station is not in the city centre, so the particulates are not here...

Coal-fired you say? But at least the power station is not in the city centre, so the particulates are not here...

There's a useful reminder in a recent study of the two sides of the coin that come with 'zero-emission vehicles'. Certainly, they are zero-emission from the tailpipe at the point of use but there may also be a serious problem upstream in how the electricity that comes through the charger was generated. The environmental problem is effectively moved from the tailpipe to the power station. In the auto business, this is something that the proponents of electric propulsion tend not to dwell on - and understandably so. But if the electricity was generated via the burning of coal, well, you are likely not being quite as environmentally responsible as you would like to think.

This is something of a controversial area and a constantly moving picture as governments juggle with the wider problem of the energy mix and struggle to raise the renewable element. It may be the case that charging a vehicle's battery at certain times of the day produces a different mix (peak times more likely to have dirtier sources of power employed) or that in one country the CO2 picture is much better than in the next one (eg France with its reliance on nuclear power comes out quite well on that basis, although how 'green' nuclear power really is, is something of a debatable question).

There is certainly some food for thought in this study that has 'EV coal' as a pretty environmentally harmful way to propel a vehicle, the worst option in fact, while 'EV Renewable' is top of the environmentally responsible scale.

Slightly cheeky question you might want to pose to the EV driver with a smug look on their face: How's your coal-fired EV doing?

The Economist article: Cleaner than what?


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